Remembering Willie “Will O’ The Wisp” Pep!
By Ken Hissner: One of the all-time greatest pound-for-pound boxers ever was world featherweight champion Willie Pep who finished with a 229-11-1 record with 65 stoppages. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
In December of 1938, Pep in the amateurs lost a decision to the all-time pound-for-pound best “Sugar” Ray Robinson. In July of 1940, he turned professional and won his first 62 fights before losing to former lightweight champion Sammy Angott in March of 1943.
Pep was 53-0 when he defeated Chalky Wright, 143-33-17, in November of 1942 for the NYSAC world featherweight title and defeated him three more times.
Among those Pep defeated included Jackie Wilson, 90-24-8, NBA World Feather champ Sal Bartolo, 71-17-6; Willie Joyce, 52-9-7, Lefty LaChance, 122-42-16, Jackie Blair, 83-30-9 and stopped Jock Leslie, 58-9-4.
Pep was 134-1-1 when he lost to Sandy Saddler in October of 1948 and, in February, regained the title by defeating Saddler 86-6-2; named Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year, later losing the third match to Saddler, who was one of the dirtiest boxers ever.
In other title fights, Pep defeated Eddie Compo, 57-1-3. Charley Riley, 51-11-2 and Ray Famechon, 59-5, Manuel Ortiz, 99-28-3, Phil Terranova, 67-21-11, Pappy Gault, 62-16-2, Corky Gonzalez, 51-4 and Paddy DeMarco, 75-26-3.
Pep was rated the greatest featherweight of all time by Ring Magazine in 1994 and 2002.
Pep once won a round without landing a punch. He told then-middleweight champion Rocky Graziano “You couldn’t hit me with a fist full of stones!”
Pep retired in 1959 and returned in 1965, winning nine straight before what would be his final fight to Calvin Woodland, 8-4, in March of 1966.
I saw him fight Jackie Lennon, 8-10-3, at the Philadelphia Arena in the second comeback fight, winning a 6-round decision at age 42.
Pep was married six times. “All my wives were great housekeepers,” he would say. “After every divorce, they kept the house.”
Pep suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease in his final years and died at the West Hill Convalescent Home in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, on November 23, 2006.